I think I may have blinked once and all of a sudden it’s the end of August and I’m starting to think about September. As I look at the fall calendar my mind also goes to meal planning and I’ve started thinking about what busy weeknight dinners are going to look like this year.
One of the questions I am frequently asked by my clients is, how do I manage to cook dinner every night? The truth is, between my work, the kids, the house, the laundry (I’m actually embarrassed to admit how many laundry baskets are around my house right now), the kids’ sports, clubs and music lessons, family obligations, school events, and all of the rest, making dinner feels like a herculean task some nights. Eating-out, ordering-in or relying on pre-made packaged food every night sometimes sounds like an easy solution. The problem is that when we do this, I quickly notice some changes to how I feel and how my children behave. Sure, we can (and do) eat out occasionally, but when I find myself eating out more often than eating home-cooked foods, I notice that first that my digestion slows. I become bloated and (sorry, TMI alert) spend more time in the bathroom than I should. I also notice that I feel more tired and my skin and hair doesn’t look as healthy.
So what’s a busy mama to do? One word really sums it up…SIMPLIFY.
During these busy, hectic, over-scheduled, long days, I take a cue from my fifth grade teacher and K-I-S-S. So far, every stage of motherhood that I’ve experienced, I’ve had this notion that once that particular stage was over, things would become infinitely easier. This has turned out to be a completely false premise with most things, and cooking dinner is no different. For me, and most of the mamas I coach, it doesn’t matter if you have a newborn or an eleven year old (or both!), putting something that resembles a nutritionally balanced meal on the table (on a regular basis, let alone multiple times a week) is HARD. To add to this challenge, many of us (ME!) have a child with a particularly discerning palate. Mine discerns against pretty much anything that isn’t pasta or smothered in sour cream. I do have some successful strategies to help with that too but for today I want to focus on some (hopefully) inspirational ideas for busy weeknight dinners.
To be clear that these are my quick, go-to dinners, for nights when I have either forgotten to plan something in advance or simply don’t have time. A few times a week (usually 2-3 times) I do cook and I always plan leftovers that I will either use later in the week or freeze for future meals. This type of planning and food prep is skill I’ve developed over time and is vitally important (and it’ one that I teach at my cooking classes).
Good Food, FAST
1) Breakfast for dinner. Scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage (if I’m feeling really extravagant, and we happen to have some in the freezer) with sautéed greens or salad.
2) Rice and beans with greens. Even if I don’t have leftover rice in the fridge (which I often do) I can cook a pot of rice in about 30 minutes. In that amount of time I also open a can of black or red beans and steam some frozen broccoli.
3) Quesadillas. I try to keep a variety of tortillas in my freezer because if we’re lucky enough to have some cheese and sour cream, we’ve got the makings for quesadilla night. Quesadillas are a wonderful way to make use of those tiny little containers of leftover you would normally let go to waste. I like to add veggies I have in my fridge (I have used chopped, artichokes, brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, arugula, peppers, and even eggplant) along with protein (beans, chicken, pork, leftover steak, etc) all make great quesadilla fillings.
4) Taco night. About once a week we have a taco night at the Wagner home. In my mind, it’s pretty much the same deal as the quesadilla night but, for some reason, the family thinks it’s a whole new ballgame. Just like the quesadillas, the tacos are a great way to use up little leftover protein and veggies, only this time it goes into a hard shell and (if you do dairy) there is cheese sprinkled on top rather than melted into it.
5) Stir fry. Again, this is all about using up leftovers in a new and creative way. I sauté whatever veggies I have (carrots, onions, bok choy, kale, zucchini, eggplant, etc.) with whatever protein I have leftover from earlier in the week (cooked chicken, pork or beef are perfect) with some ginger (which I store in my freezer) and tamari sauce (a pantry staple) and serve it over rice noodles (which take about 2 minutes to boil and rinse) or leftover rice. Viola!
I’d love to hear from you. What are your top, go-to dinners when the family is starving and you need to act fast?
Amara Wagner is a speaker and mentor who empowers moms to trust their intuition and guides them, with practical tools, to raise naturally healthy families. Her private and group coaching programs help women navigate motherhood mindfully and with a sense of humor, without dogma. Amara provides a unique, down-to-earth approach to moms who want to feel confident using whole foods and ancient remedies to support their family's health. She specializes in helping holistic-minded mamas parent from an intuitive place, without sacrificing their own health. To learn more about Amara and her programs please visit www.amarawellness.com.